Steve Burn, the Site Manager for the Southern Chester County Refuse Authority (SECCRA), said we are recycling about 11% of our trash in Southern Chester County, using what is called single stream processing. That means we are putting all our recycled materials into one container without separation at home. SECCRA then passes this along to consolidators after removing the large "unwanted" items to be sorted and shipped to users. SECCRA is burying 400 tons and recycling 50 tons of trash per day through this system. While this is good, it may not be economic to continue this level of recycling.
China stopped accepting unlimited amounts of US recycled materials some months ago. That of value to manufacturers was separated and the rest and burnt for energy generation. China stopped this because of pollution concerns. This means China only accepts "clean" recycled materials, those that can be used in manufacturing. That is impacting the entire supply chain from trash collectors through SECCRA to the high end consolidators of recycled materials. Steve said a number of smaller consolidators have gone out of business already, and everyone is policing their stream of materials more vigorously to stay below the standard 10% rate of contamination with unacceptable materials. 
SECCRA is in negotiations with its recycled materials consolidator currently. Steve expects/hopes that the price they will charge to accept our recycled materials will only rise form $70 to $100 per ton. That means our trash collectors will likely raise their prices to offset this additional cost SECCRA will pass along to them, if they have not started this process already. 
Everyone in the supply chain is emphasizing they want to receive "clean materials" for processing, essentially asking we consumers to do a better job of sorting what is and is not recyclable. The wanted materials include: 
  • cardboard and paper that is not contaminated with grease and other foreign substances
  • cans and glass bottles
  • plastic containers made with types 1, 2, 4, 5, and 7 plastic. Remove the caps as they are not the same type of plastic. 
  • paper back books, magazines, telephone books, catalogs, and office files and papers
All containers need to be rinsed out so that the contents are removed. For example, not rinsing out a bottle that was used for cooking oil will contaminate any paper near it when it breaks during the various stages of recycling. That potentially ups the contamination percentage of a load substantially. Once the 10% limit is reached, entire loads are refused, converting that entire truck full of recyclable material into trash in our land fills. 
Some materials are refused because they jam machinery or don't fit into the recycler's machinery. The classic are plastic bags. They are so light they float around in the processing stream and jam gears. They can be recycled by returning them to the store. They get processed through special machinery when they are presented alone. While aluminum is recycled, not all of it fits into the machinery. The big issue here is aluminum siding. The pieces are too long to be handled. With large metal objects like this you want to sell them to a scrap metal operation. They are structured to process large items. 
SECCRA handles some items specially when the home owner delivers them to the site. These include appliances, electronics and tires. They are delivered outside the "single stream" so they can be processed economically.